One of my core requirements for any camera I carry with me on my travels is that it performs well in challenging lighting conditions. So I’ve been curious to test that out on the new OM System OM-5, especially after shooting with the Olympus OM-1.
Olympus is now OM System
In 2020-21, the photography business of iconic camera brand Olympus was spun off and sold. The core remaining Olympus brand is focusing on medical and scientific products. The camera and photography side was then rebranded as OM System, with the first cameras and lenses under that brand coming out at the end of 2021.
The Micro Four Thirds system is committed to a smallish sensor. It’s a defining feature of the concept. On the plus side, that paves the way for smaller cameras and lenses. On the negative side, smaller sensors tend to struggle–at least compared to larger sensors–in low light shooting.
So I was quite pleasantly surprised at the low-light performance of the OM-1. And I was interested to see how the OM-5 stacked up.
While the OM-5 was launched after the OM-1, it actually uses older technology. 1 It also has a narrower ISO range (200 to 25600 natural; down to ISO 64 in extended range). I found its performance good up to around ISO 3200 to ISO 6400 but markedly less impressive above that (although the in-camera noise reduction applied to the JPG versions does a good job of masking over the noise issues (but less so with reduced dynamic range and colors)). It’s probably not a coincidence that ISO 6400 is the ceiling for the Auto ISO feature.
Of course, every photographer is going to have a different set of preferences for when the image quality is too degraded, and it’s also going to vary from scene to scene and the use it’s being put to.
Precisely where the threshold between “normal” and “high” ISO is obviously a highly subjective judgment. For these purposes, I’m going to put it around ISO 3200 because most decent cameras these days can handle at least up to that without any real difficulty.
Images at High ISOs from the OM System OM-5
Here’s a small selection of high-ISO images I’ve shot with the OM-5.
At the top are some general images. Below that are some sequences of the same scene running from ISO 3200 up to the top of the OM-5 ISO range at ISO 25600.
These are mostly unedited; there’s some slight increase in the slider exposure on some of the display versions, but none of the originals at the links. Normally, I’d apply more post-processing to these, but since objective here is to look at the results straight out of camera, I’ve left these untouched. The display versions on this page are from the JPG versions, which have the camera’s own noise reduction applied. You can also download the original unedited version straight from the camera (both JPG and RAW).
For these, I’ve left the OM-5 on its default setting for noise reduction (Standard). But it’s possible to turn it off or choose a Low, Standard, or High setting by going to:
MENU > Settings > E1 > Noise Filter
I’ve included the ISO used for each in its caption along with links to the original, straight-out-of-camera JPGs (with the camera’s default Standard Noise Filter applied) and RAW (.orf) files. You can also click on each image for a full-size version.
High ISO Sequences
Here are some sequences I shot of the same scenes at each ISO step from ISO 3200 to ISO 25600.
High ISO Range / Set 1
High ISO Range / Set 2
High ISO Range / Set 3
High ISO Range / Set 4
High ISO Range / Set 5
Fixing Image Quality Problems in Editing
The general rule of thumb in photography is that it’s better to get the shot right at the time of capture rather than trying to fix it later. That’s a great aspiration, but it’s not always possible to do if you’re shooting in especially challenging conditions or bumping up against limitations or flaws in gear, conditions, or technique.
But it’s worth mentioning that there are some excellent tools available to help address common image quality issues with digital images. And they’re getting better and better all the time as the power of AI ramps up. They can deal remarkably well with anything from sensor issues like high-ISO image noise to lens issues like distortion, softness, vignetting, and chromatic aberration. (Note: I’m focusing here on corrections related to image quality, not image enhancement tools—that’s a different kettle of fish.)
All-round image processing apps like Lightroom Classic and Capture One have solid tools built in that are very good places to start. But it’s also possible to take it much further with more specialized tools. If you shoot in challenging conditions regularly and find room for improvement in the image quality coming out of the camera, these might well be worth a look (and they have free trials). Some are stand-alone apps; some integrate into image editing suites such as Lightroom Classic.
UPDATE: In April 2023, Adobe released an update to Lightroom Classic that added new AI-powered noise reduction for RAW files. It’s a powerful tool that rivals some of the dedicated apps below. If you’re already using Lightroom Classic for your image editing and organization, it’s well worth trying out—look for the Denoise tool under the Detail panel.
Fixing Image Noise & High ISO Artifacts
- DxO PureRAW 3. Like Lightroom Classic’s Denoise tool, it only works on RAW files. But since was updated to version 3, it has become my go-to app for this kind of thing. I’m consistently amazed at how it can rescue photos with otherwise dodgy image quality from noise. It can also help with lens distortion, lens vignetting, and lens softness.
- DxO DeepPrime. This is the noise-only offering using the same denoising technology as PureRAW.
- Topaz Labs’ DeNoise AI. This is another excellent option for specialized denoising. It works alongside Lightroom or as a standalone app.
Fixing Lens-Related Optical Issues
- DxO PureRAW. Again offers an impressive suite of automatic fixes that are applied before you start editing the images.
- DxO ViewPoint. Correcting for lens distortion and geometry skews. Lightroom Classic and Capture One also have excellent built-in tools for this.
- Topaz Labs Sharpen AI. In addition to standard unsharp tools, it includes focus correction and shake reduction.
Things Worth Knowing
The OM-5’s Auto ISO feature only goes up to ISO 6400. If you want to go higher than that you’ll need to set the ISO manually.
Price & Availability of the OM System OM-5
The OM-5 body has an MSRP of $1200. It’s also sold with a 12-45mm ƒ/4 PRO kit lens for $1600.
Check the current price and available at:
OM System OM-5 Camera Accessories
These are the model numbers for the official accessories for the OM System OM-5.
- Battery: BLS-50 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- External Charger: BCS-5
- USB-AC Adapter: F-5AC AC wall adapter
- Grip: ECG-5
- Remote: RM-WR1 wireless remote control
- Eyecup: EP-16 / EP-15
- The OM-5 is a newer camera than the OM-1–at least in terms of when they were released onto the market. But in many ways, it’s an older model. It has an older sensor, older processor, older menu system, and generally older performance specs than the OM-1. Basically, it replaces the Olympus E-M5 III and sits in the middle of OM-System’s lineup (with the OM-1) the newest flagship model).